A year ago this month, August 2014, I was gratefully ending IV chemo with Taxol and beginning to let in the possibility that I might stabilize and begin to feel better during the coming year. That summer was pretty much obscured by treatment and its unfortunate side effects, and colored by the uncertainty I lived with about my prognosis.
When our older son announced in October that he was engaged to his longtime girlfriend, we were ecstatic. We hoped like the dickens that the wedding would be sooner rather than later, and that I would be in good enough shape to travel and participate.
In reflecting back, the wedding, set for this summer, became a very important inner motivator. I knew full well that I had little control over the course of this stage of the disease. I could feel the desire I had to engage in this event, though. It fed my vitality and positively affected the family and treatment team, as well. I would need to be able to tolerate two day-long plane flights, and once there, feel reasonably free of fatigue, nausea, and achiness. In my heart, I wanted to be able to be a contribution to the week, and not a detraction. And then there’s vanity, my old pal, who told me she dreaded meeting lots of new people while feeling unwell and uncomfortable, avoiding photos and wearing wigs. My attentive and caring oncology team figured out a way for me to extend the “off days” of Xeloda for an extra week, prior to the flight. The last three appointments with them were animated and hopeful, as we discussed how best to time the meds break to give me the most energy with the smallest risk for relapse. The plan worked By our arrival in Montana, I felt a gradual return to a near normal energy level, making the trip and a deeply engaging wedding week possible.
We flew to Montana from Maine at the end of July for our five night stay at a VRBO home on the Yellowstone River.
Rented as a way to house immediate family, the house had four bedrooms, a large open living/dining area and a well equipped kitchen. It became the central command post for wedding bits and pieces, as well as for making meals and cleaning up and sending various groups off for athletic activities. Her parents and brother, with his wife and toddler son were there. Our younger son and his long time girlfriend stayed there, as well.
The long front deck of the house faced the river and grew shady and cool by sundown. I spent some of the best moments sitting with others, chatting the way you do in a car, staring forward into the dusk. I loved washing dishes and chatting with her mother as the routines of family care went on. A chinked log cabin sat below the house and nearer to the water, where the bride and groom stayed. Their border collie, Dish, ranged far and wide, running like a streak after he’d sight a small mammal in the field, then galloping up to the deck to pay his respects to us all, in turn. Here is an excerpt from my journal on the day before the wedding:
“Today the men were tasked with building a driftwood altar construction which would form the backdrop for the ceremony. The boys and the dads drove to a spot on the river bank where long, silver driftwood logs were piled against the banks. They had a time of it, I heard, loading the ones they wanted into the pickup, but they made it back relatively unscathed. The truck wound its way down to the valley floor. Over the next few hours they commenced to engineer a ten foot high arbor that reminded me of a ranch gateway and a gothic church beam. It went together slowly, as our son figured out how best to support the sides without making post holes in the field. I was reminded of the Amish barn-raising scene in the movie, ‘Witness’, a silent endeavor of cooperative construction all done to background music of a simple folk tune, gradually swelling. That scene was unexpectedly moving, as was this one.
Dish-dog is ranging between the buildings, herding up the unsuspecting fishermen and picnickers who walk to the river, and soliciting endless games of fetch. Fin, the baby nephew is 19 months old, and clatters around the deck and fields with his plastic lawnmower. The bride’s uncle is officiating the ceremony, and is getting the final details down today. The bride and her mother are picking up the sound system and getting their nails done. The event is being held outdoors at 5pm tomorrow, with a catered farm to table meal, followed by a dance party at 8. With just under 80 guests, they have arranged a workable, intimate and relaxed event, which was their strong desire.”
Key to the days spent in Paradise Valley were several hikes, bikes and hot spring soaks engineered by the athletic couple and their siblings and friends. I was struck by seeing how enthusiastic they all were to try new things or to share favorite places with family. One hike to a high altitude lake:
I felt so much pure contentment and peace, being with my sisters, children, and husband to celebrate a truly beautiful union between two very well matched souls. Our new daughter-in-law is a gem. She inspires us with her many interests and her ability to follow through with actions on them. Not to mention she is gorgeous, warm, intelligent and so supportive of our treasured oldest son. Thanks to you both for such a wonderful experience in your adopted state of Montana. She is beyond fortunate to have you there.